Officials await results of purchasing probe
Elected officials say they had no knowledge of the purchasing scam.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The investigation into vendors involved with the Trumbull County purchasing probe is complete -- and it's up to a special prosecutor to determine if any elected officials had criminal responsibility.
Trumbull County commissioners and the county sheriff were aware of the scheme and they received the lion's share of kickbacks, the county's former maintenance director Tony Delmont has stated.
For at least three years, Delmont was buying maintenance and cleaning supplies in huge quantities and at exorbitant prices. Delmont pleaded guilty in May to bribery, money laundering and theft-in-office.
But the commissioners and the sheriff say they had no involvement or knowledge of the scheme, despite the numerous indictments and admissions by defendants that elected officials knew of the purchasing scam that cost taxpayers more than $1 million:
U"I had no idea and I don't know the salesmen that were involved, not at all," said Commissioner James Tsagaris.
UMichael O'Brien, former county commissioner and now Warren's mayor, said he too, was unaware. O'Brien noted that he may have met some of the sales people but did not accept any money or gifts. He said one of the vendors had bought tickets to a golf outing one time.
USheriff Thomas Altiere also said that he had no knowledge of and never met any of the sales people and that they didn't buy any of his fund-raising tickets.
UCommissioner Joseph Angelo refused to answer any questions related to the purchasing scandal. "Ask the prosecutor," Angelo said.
Angelo was subpoenaed twice to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the matter and both appearances were less than three minutes. O'Brien, Altiere and Tsagaris have also been subpoenaed to the grand jury -- all three were inside the grand jury for at least 30 minutes.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it is not known what was said.
The special county grand jury has indicted eight people. Out of the eight, six either worked for or owned janitorial companies that sold goods to the county.
In a three-page affidavit on file in Trumbull County Common Pleas court, Delmont says he gave $50,000 to elected officials, as well as sporting event tickets, electronics equipment and other gifts. He also contended that all his actions were at the specific direction of the commissioners and/or the sheriff.
During the period in question, Altiere was county sheriff, and O'Brien, Tsagaris and Angelo were commissioners. For the years 1999, 2000 and 2001, the county paid about $570,000 each year for janitorial supplies.
Since the scam has been stopped, the county is paying about $83,000 for supplies, officials said.
For the past two years, Trumbull County prosecutors and officials with the state attorney general's office and the state auditor's office have been poring over thousands of documents, including purchase orders and bank statements, to get to the bottom of the scandal.
"This office's inquiry into the various vendors involving criminal activity has for the most part been concluded," Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said.
He noted that two of the vendors have pleaded guilty. The other cases are pending.
Because of information gathered during the past 24 months, Watkins has asked Victor Vigluicci, Portage County prosecutor, to take over the probe.
The Vindicator began publishing stories about excessive prices for cleaning supplies and shoddy bookkeeping in the maintenance department in August 2002. Shortly afterward, Watkins launched an investigation and asked the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and the state auditor's office for assistance.